Five missions to Israel sponsored by the Jewish Federation of Greater MetroWest NJ during February gave close to 100 members of the community up-close and varied perspectives of the Jewish state.
The federation also played a role in organizing a mission for NJ lawmakers sponsored by the State Association of Jewish Federations (“Legislators tour Israel as federation guests,” March 6).
The GMW trips included the Seymour Epstein Leadership Mission (“An Israel tourists often don’t get to see,” Feb. 20) and the Rabbinic Mission (“Rabbis’ mission explores pluralism in Israel, Feb. 27). Following are brief reports on the other February missions.
Ness Mission participants check out projects in Negev
A group of 18 volunteers from the Ness Fund of the Jewish Federation of Greater MetroWest NJ and members of GMW staff visited Israel from Feb. 23 to 27, to see new projects financed with the help of the fund. Created with a bequest from Watchung farmer Mack Ness, it is one of the only Jewish community endowment funds focused on the Negev.
The group, escorted by Noga Maliniak, former executive shliha at the federation’s Legow Israel Program Center and now Israel director of the Ness Fund, visited a range of programs dealing with economic and demographic issues, checking on progress of existing partnerships, and exploring projects the fund might help finance in the coming years. They went to Kibbutz Kramim, Arad, the central Arava, Ofakim, and Sderot.
Jessica Mehlman, the interim executive director of the Jewish Community Foundation of GMW NJ, coordinated the trip. She said there were so many GMW missions in Israel in February, “we had additional staff join us who were already on the ground to learn more about what the Ness Fund does. It was really great having them there, and they were inspired by Ness.”
She said this trip to the Negev had a different flavor from those in the past. “The difference between last year and this year was very noticeable,” she said. “Highways are being widened, construction is everywhere, and new industrial parks are being built. We came away with a good sense of the programs that we want to fund, but more importantly, we came away with a recommendation to the larger committee that Ness needs to increase its grant-making over the next few years in order to really make an impact at this critical juncture in the history of Negev development.”
— NJJN STAFF
Taking Israel to heart
Five women with local ties were among the 120 women taking part in the Jewish Federation of North America’s annual Heart2Heart Mission to Israel.
For four days and nights, the mission combined cultural activities with policy briefings and visits to social service providers, including Bedouin activists and therapists at Beit Issie Shapiro who work with profoundly disabled children in Ra’anana.
“We met with powerful women working to raise their own children within the values of Israeli society while working to raise Israeli society, still deeply rooted in tradition, to reflect an ever-changing world,” Robin Sysler of Short Hills, one of the Greater MetroWest participants in the mission, wrote in an e-mail to NJJN. “Each day brought new opportunities for learning, fun and excitement, meetings with incredibly accomplished women, and a deeper understanding of the many issues facing and faced by the Israeli government and its people.”
Ann Kruger Leeb of South Orange, shortly after returning home on Feb. 13, said that she enjoyed a demonstration by the Jaffa-based Mayumana, an avant-garde performance troupe, and “even being asked to learn some of their routines.”
Also among those with ties to the Jewish Federation of Greater MetroWest NJ was a family unit: Cathy Tabak of Westfield and her daughter, Rachel, a Syracuse University undergraduate now studying in Tel Aviv; and Ginger Hahn, Cathy’s mother, who lives in Manhasset, NY, and Florida.
“We were there, three generations in this distant land of indescribable warmth, different from anywhere else we had ever been, yet, in the truest sense of the world, home,” Tabak wrote.
— ROBERT WIENER
Peoplehood partners meet to create ‘living bridge’
Twelve local participants in a two-year “living bridge” project met with their Israeli counterparts during an eight-day visit to Israel.
From Feb. 9 to 16, the Americans stayed in the Israelis’ homes in the Ofakim/Merchavim region, explored the region and beyond, and visited programs and organizations affiliated with the Jewish Federation of Greater MetroWest NJ.
The federation sponsors The Peoplehood Project leadership development program, whose third cohort includes the 12 local participants and 12 Israelis. The Ofakim/Merchavim region is a partnership community of Greater MetroWest.
The participants had gotten to know one another via video conference calls and e-mails, but this was their first in-person contact. They discussed projects they can work on together to benefit one another’s communities. The Israelis will be coming to visit New Jersey in May.
The Israelis and the Americans “continue to be eager to open their homes, families, cultures, recipes, and dishes (as the group calls it, ‘PeopleFood’) with one another, create meaningful bonds and lasting relationships with each other, and share everyday realities,” wrote Leah Maas, who led the trip as program coordinator and Masa Israel representative with the GMW federation’s Legow Family Israel Program Center.
For Nancy Marsillo of Warren, it was her fourth visit to Israel but her first Peoplehood trip. “I really wanted a more in-depth experience this time — to live like and with Israelis and not be shlepped around on the typical ‘Israel 101’ bus tour again,” she said.
Wendy Feldman of Mountain Lakes had also been in Israel before, but this was the first time she got to attend Shabbat services there. That Friday evening, she had “a fabulous Persian dinner” with her hosts’ family in Be’er Sheva. Feldma n wrote about it later: “Everyone wanted to meet me and speak with me. I have several new Facebook friends and some wonderful memories. I am really at home here.”
— ELAINE DURBACH